Last year I didn’t know what to get my brother for Christmas, so on about 12/24 I went online and ordered him some praying mantis. I thought no more about it until I got a call on my cell phone while I was at work. A guy with a Southern accent was trying to explain how the projected hatch date would depend on when he went out into the fields to gather egg cases. Something about the temperature.
I think it turned out okay, I’ll have to ask my brother.
Though I’m timid about sending my credit card number to the World Wide Web, I’ve never had a problem. In fact, phone calls like that show how tiny businesses have a chance to sell online, without the overhead. And no one locally has mantis in stock around Christmas.
It’s all good, I would say, but this New York Times story is truly frightening– a reminder that anyone can set up a spiffy-looking site for free…
SHOPPING online in late July, Clarabelle Rodriguez typed the name of her favorite eyeglass brand into Google’s search bar.
In moments, she found the perfect frames — made by a French company called Lafont — on a Web site that looked snazzy and stood at the top of the search results…
… her eyeglasses arrived two days later. But the frames appeared to be counterfeits and Ms. Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Lafont, remembers that even the case seemed fake.
Soon after, she discovered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the overcharge and said she would return the frames.
“What the hell am I supposed to do with these glasses?” she recalls Mr. Russo shouting. “I ordered them from France specifically for you!”
“I’m going to contact my credit card company,” she told him, “and dispute the charge.”
Until that moment, Mr. Russo was merely ornery. Now he erupted.
“Listen, bitch,” he fumed, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a reference, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brooklyn. Then, she said, he threatened to find her and commit an act of sexual violence too graphic to describe in a newspaper.
The rest of the article outlines how Russo, aka Vitaly Borker, used the Google search engine to advantage, the volume of complaints against Decor My Eyes sending him to the top of the list. Google was slow to take action, but the credit card company was worse, pretty much dodging any responsibility.
When reporter David Segal went to visit Decor My Eyes he found Vitaly Borker, eyeglass magnate, operating out of his apartment. Segal seemed almost charmed by Borker. He asked about Borker’s emails to Ms. Rodriguez…
I mention that sending that photo of her apartment building sounds kind of threatening.
Nothing but an image he copied off of the Web, from Google Earth, Mr. Borker says. He says he sent it to her only to underscore that when it came time to hire a process server to commence litigation, he’d find her. The “hand in fire” threat? Metaphorical, he says. Then again, he acknowledges with a sly grin, if Ms. Rodriguez thought that Tony Russo seemed a little scary, that was fine.
But in his telling of events, he is her victim, not the other way around.
“She’s a psycho,” he says, adding that she still has the glasses he sent her.
(Untrue, Ms. Rodriguez says.)
Despite the fear he has inspired, Mr. Borker doesn’t regard himself as a terror. He prefers to think of himself as the Howard Stern of online commerce — an outsize character prone to shocking utterances.
Except that Howard Stern doesn’t issue threats, I say.
“People overreact,” he pshaws, often because they’re unaccustomed to plain speaking, New York-style. Anyway, he adds, if somebody messes with you, and you mess back, “how is that a threat?”
Borker has a rap sheet for threats against other women.
This kind of behavior is called ‘stalking’– it’s a crime. Threatening to rape someone is a kind of hate crime. In all the coverage of Borker’s exploitation of Google and online marketing, that detail gets lost.
But for the moment, justice is done. Rodriguez and others had complained to the police, and after this article ran, Borker was arrested and charged.
He had been stalking several women, threatening rape and calling them at work and in the middle of the night. He had guns and ammunition in his apartment. The judge denied him bail. It’s discouraging that the personal crimes carry a far lower penalty than his dealing in counterfeit goods, but more so that the police were so slow to act until it made the papers. Details are here.